Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Enough Goofin' Around!  I haven't blogged since the end of the legislative session and yesterday's primary election provides a great opportunity to start it up again.

The surprise in from yesterday's results came in the Republican gubernatorial race.  Most pundits thought the former Governor Tim Pawlenty would win his match-up with Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson and some thought Pawlenty would win quite handily.  The problem with picking primary winners is that with turnout levels much lower than the general election, a particularly motivated block of voters can turn the election.  The Republican party has done quite well over the past couple of decades in getting their endorsed candidate through the primary election successfully.  On the other hand, this is the second consecutive time that the DFL has not gotten its endorsed candidate for Governor to the general election (not counting Governor Dayton's 2014 re-election effort as a sitting incumbent).  I wish I knew for reason for the difference.

For my part, I told many (and the SEE legislative committee is my set of witnesses) that I would be surprised, but not shocked, if Commissioner Johnson defeated former Governor Pawlenty.  Yesterday's result reminded me of the 1990 Republican primary election when endorsed candidate Jon Grunseth was pitted against Arne Carlson.  Carlson went straight to the primary as the moderate alternative, foregoing the endorsement battle that featured Grunseth against David Printy in which Grunseth prevailed.  Carlson was the prohibitive favorite in the primary, with most polls showing him with a comfortable lead (some polls showed him with a lead of nearly twenty points), but, like yesterday, the Republican voters rallied behind the endorsed candidate to put him into the general election . . . but not quite as all of you will recall that a scandal removed Grunseth from the ticket, where he was replaced by Carlson and Carlson defeated incumbent Rudy Perpich to become Governor.  On primary evening in 1990, I remember (having had the opportunity to be in an election night "war room" in what now seems like the horse-and-buggy days of politics) the look on Carlson's face when asked how things were going as the early returns were coming in and realizing (as I had seen that face on other politicians in the past) that things weren't going to turn out well for him.  As an aside, campaigns pick a set of precincts as their target precincts to gauge their chances at success.  There is a science to picking target precincts and if they are chosen accurately, the candidates generally know how they are faring early in the vote tabulation process.  There can still be surprises, but that type of methodology is usually dead on and it likely was again last night.

In yesteday's Morning Take, publisher Blois Olson highlighted the First Congressional District as one to watch.  He conjectured that if State Senator Carla Nelson fared well in her challenge to GOP-endorsed Jim Hagedorn, it may be a harbinger of a similar success for Pawlenty.  Like the statewide GOP primary, Hagedorn prevailed by an almost 2-to-1 margin and while Johnson's victory over Pawlenty didn't reach that level, it was an indication that Republican voters were pretty much going along with their endorsed candidates.

From my perspective, two other elements contributed to Pawlenty's coming up short.  Because the DFL was anticipating a Pawlenty victory, much of the advertising by each candidate tied Pawlenty to policies he pursued during his time as Governor.  While those policies were supported by Republicans, Pawlenty needed to bring other folks to the polls in order to go over the top and the ads probably blunted enthusiasm for another Pawlenty term.  Which leads to the second point, which is (being a bit glib), the "third time is not the charm."  Minnesotans seem to have an aversion to giving Governors a third term, as (again channeling 1990) Rudy Perpich found out.

The DFL side of the night had a lot more drama given events of the last month.  Early polls showed a tight race between Attorney General Lori Swanson and First District Congressman Tim Walz with endorsed candidate Erin Murphy lagging behind.  As I stated earlier, a motivated voting bloc can make all the difference and while Murphy had trouble raising money to get ads on the air until late in the game while both Swanson and Walz had ads on shortly after the DFL state convention.  Murphy's campaign picked up steam as the primary approached, but there was just too much ground to pick up to overtake Walz.  I was somewhat surprised that Swanson fell into third place by the margin that she did, but (and this is getting to be a theme) the voting blocs in primaries can be quite fluid.

As we look toward to the general election, it's important to note that turnout on the DFL side was considerably higher than on the GOP side yesterday.  Some may attribute that to energy on the DFL side emanating from opposition to President Trump.  A word of caution needs to be injected, because in 2010 DFL turnout was similarly higher than on the Republican side and it turned out to be a wave election for the Republicans.  Like this year, 2010 featured a hotly-contested race between DFL-endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson-Kelliher and Mark Dayton.  Dayton narrowly won the general election over then-State Representative (now Congressman) Tom Emmer.  It is tempting to extrapolate general election projections from primary results, but it is a dicey proposition.  One thing to remember is that the party that holds the Presidency usually (but not always) has a difficult time with mid-term elections, which the Obama Administration faced in 2010 and 2014.  DFLers appear to have more energy this year and we will have to see if that translates into general election results and what those results are.

Good to be back on the blog scene.  Let me know your thoughts.